The Vinyl Detective calls.
When is a Blue Note not a Blue Note? Freddy’s last studio album for the label, a magnificent beast, Blue Spirits, a four-horn line-up, with a twist. The curious case of the Blue Note that almost never was.
Selection: Blue Spirits (Hubbard)
Presented for your listening detective pleasure, the magnificent Hank Mobley-driven title track, Blue Spirits, in two formats, mono and stereo, both recorded and mastered by Van Gelder.
MONO VAN GELDER – BLUE NOTE NY LABEL
. . .
STEREO VAN GELDER – “DIVISION OF LIBERTY” LABEL
. . .
Amazon’s CD review sums it up.
“Freddie Hubbard’s “Blue Spirits” is his unrecognized masterpiece. With a four-horn front line and a surging rhythm section, he crafts brilliant compositions and voices them for maximum impact. Hubbard, James Spaulding, Joe Henderson and Hank Mobley solo with fire and passion.”
I say, “unrecognised no more”.
Four horns across the range, from trumpet, alto, tenor, to euphonium (!) makes for thrilling harmonies and textures, plus Mobley! And Henderson! Then throw in flute (I know, I know, but it lends a very ’60s hippy feel) plus latin percussion and Pete La Rocca, and McCoy Tyner, plus Hubbard’s compositional skills, a rich, talent-bulging stew. Why didn’t Blue Note release it? Who knows, may be someone does.
After a string of stellar albums, debuting with Open Sesame, Hubbard is here on his 9th and penultimate recording for Blue Note. Masterfully-controlled rich, warm and deep golden tone, bright yet a velvet touch, sure-footed with gentle vibrato, a distinctive voice among the young moderns, along side – arguably edging above – the excitable Lee Morgan and sterling silver Donald Byrd. Still to come, Freddy’s commercial funky move to Atlantic and CTI, and we are in his most creative Blue Note phase.
Having the two leading young tenor voices on board, Mobley and Henderson, keeps your ears constantly on your toe’s (apologies, horrible mixed metaphor). Their stylistic nuances contrast. Mobley’s repertoire of solo phrases is becoming more structured and composed. He also picked up a few arranging tricks from this date to use on his own sessions as leader the following year March 18, 1966 (also a Friday, as it happens), released as A Slice Of The Top LT-995 (UA 1979) with a similar horn line-up, Kiane Zawadi on euphonium, James Spaulding (again) alto, Lee Morgan trumpet and adding Howard Johnson tuba to make a five horn ensemble, so many they had to send out for an extra tin of Brasso.
Blue Spirits is a recognised masterpiece, which offers great inventive music. It has some flaws, I don’t know many pieces that don’t, but that shouldn’t stop you diving in and basking in the sheer joy of Modern Jazz, 1965.
Artists: Freddie Hubbard Octet, and Septet, two session dates, two line-ups:
Freddie Hubbard (trumpet) Kiane Zawadi (a.k.a Bernard McKinney – euphonium) James Spaulding (alto sax, flute) on both dates, recorded at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, with –
February 19, 1965: (“Soul Surge” and “Cunga Black”) Joe Henderson (tenor sax) Harold Mabern (piano) Larry Ridley (bass) Clifford Jarvis (drums) Big Black (congas)
February 26, 1965: (“Blue Spirits” “Outer Forces” and “Jodo”) Hank Mobley (tenor sax) McCoy Tyner (piano) Bob Cranshaw (bass) Pete La Roca (drums)
Interestingly, to anyone who likes to delve into such things, the date with Henderson seemingly yielded three rejected takes out of five, not a good day, with just two making it to the LP: Soul Surge and Cunga Black . Outer Forces” was rejected and went on to be recorded on the second date a week later, so it features Mobley instead of Henderson.
As for “The Melting Pot” and “True Colours”, they disappeared briefly. Connoisseurs of “bonus tracks” on The Evil Silver Disc of Blue Spirits find these compositions reappear, recorded the following year March 5, 1966, a Saturday as it happens, with Joe Henderson back in the driving seat and Herbie Hancock on celeste along for the ride.
As a result of merging of takes from these two sessions, the LP of Blue Spirits contains two tracks of the abrasive buzz-saw hard tone of Joe Henderson, and three tracks of the malted-chocolate tenor of Hank Mobley. Which is great, because I love them both, and Freddy is rapidly becoming my most preferred of all trumpet players (sorry, Miles)
Perhaps that first February session decided Hubbard to convene a different line up the following week. Interesting decision.
The title was was routinely allocated a catalogue number by Alfred Lion, BN 4196, along side other titles released in August 1965, the standard six months from studio to market. The track selection and sequence had been agreed in order to have labels and jackets printed and Van Gelder rolled the tapes to cut the masters. All the artistic decisions had been made. All that remained was the business decision to be made to set the presses rolling. And it wasn’t.
ENTER LIBERTY RECORDS
Blue Spiritswas not released for nearly two years, until first issued by Liberty, at the beginning of 1967, in the exciting company of Lee Morgan’s Cornbread (4222) Sam River’s Contours (4206), and Bobby Hutcherson’s Happenings (4231). All edgy post-bop records with new theatrical vision and avant-leaning tendancies.
Billboard of January 1967 picks up the story of their current crop of new jazz releases –
Marketing Department of Liberty must have had a busy run down to Christmas 1966, pushing mono stamped audition copies out of the door to radio stations. Some very competitive collectors believe the audition copy stamp became progressively more faint with repetition in use, and that the darkest ink “audition copy” stamp indicates which are the very earliest promos. Earliest by perhaps a few minutes, but in collecting, these things matter, earliest is earliest. Other collectors refer to this as bollox-on-stilts, and I need to confess I just made it up. But there could be money in it if anyone were to believe it, so let’s keep the idea running.
Vinyl pressing, labels, covers, inners
Both mono and stereo editions bear the VAN GELDER mastering stamp, as does the stereo edition with Division of Liberty labels. All pressed with the same RVG mastered metal, the source doesn’t come any finer. It really doesn’t matter much what the label says, the sound is the same:
in anticipation of release, Blue Note had labels printed for both mono and stereo editions, along with a quantity of both covers. With release deferred and no vinyl pressed, these will have remained in the stockroom (photo yet to be found) and all passed over to Liberty, together with Van Gelder metal, ready for pressing.
As by 1967 stereo was the dominant LP format, Liberty printed additional stereo labels, but none for mono, where the inherited Blue Note stock apparently sufficed to meet mono demand The mono and stereo below left and centre appear to be Keystone Printed Specialties legacy stock, the Division of Liberty (below right) I am less confident of. Let’s take a closer look.
Though Superficially similar typesetting, but the paper stock is different, sufficiently to allow the R in ® to bleed, and the colour fidelity off, the blue ink has marbled. Circumstantial, but potentially significant. Different printer, different pressing plant?
The covers match up with the labels inherited from Blue Note, mono “High Fidelity” and “Stereo” with large catalogue number top right. These are artfully replaced by Liberty Blue Note logo top left, on a rear slick, with a small font “unisex” catalogue number: BLP 4196 / 84196, so it could be used as liner notes on either mono or stereo covers.
The Reid Miles cover art remained the same, merely waiting for the printer to drop in the mono or stereo designation, where Liberty followed Blue Note original practice:
The early link between Liberty and All-Disc Records pressing plant is well established, and it is likely but not proven that the Blue Spirits copies with original Blue Note Keystone labels, both mono and stereo, were All-Disc pressings, which are to my ear the calibre of Plastylite.
However there is there is the small matter of the Division of Liberty stereo, which has atypical label print quality, and which in my case has a serrated edge, not characteristic of Liberty All-Disc or Research Craft plant production, but the signature of another pressing plant associated with some Liberty pressings at this time.
This Division of Liberty stereo pressing is one of a number of Liberty Blue Note releases at this time manufactured with a serrated edge. Mobley’s High Voltage, released the same year, has the exact same signature serrated edge, possibly others.
Until recently I had no ideas on the origin of the serrated edge, and no authoritative source even recognised its existence. Until now.
The whole world is full of vinyl detectives, I love it! LJC Reader Jason W noted the self-same serrated edge on his copy of “Brazilian Beat 67”, a latin jazz album released in this same year, 1967, manufactured by Keel Mfg. Corp., Hauppauge, L.I.
Accompanying 84196 my Division of Liberty came its original Liberty inner sleeve, the legend “534 Printed in U.S.A” bottom right rising, if that means anything. On the theme “entertainment for everyone” is a selection of Liberty artists, new releases and reissues, various covers and music genres, I don’t think it changed the way Blue Note inner sleeve did, so it is no help in dating manufacture.
Any other sightings of the serrated edge, let me know, the five 1967 releases are potential candidates. Also if you have the Division Of Liberty copy of Blue Spirits, – is it serrated edge too, or conventional round-trimmed edge?. Add to the story if you can, or shoot it down if you must if your aim is true ( a deep groove copy will suffice).. We collect knowledge here, not just records.
Collector’s Corner: Blue Noteconomics
Increasingly I find my mission the search for value-in-vintage-vinyl-jazz rather than gasping at trophy-prices (though that can be fun too). What I know is that Blue Spirits is one of the least expensive, most undervalued Hubbard Blue Note, Liberty, whichever. Not unrecognised, but undervalued. Whilst Open Sesame tops at over $2,000, top copies of Blue Spirits come in at one tenth of that price.
Fast forward to the collector marketplace. What do buyers and sellers make of Blue Spirits? To me, it makes the music terrific value for listening money. We have a new science: Blue Noteconomics
Cue an enthusiastic seller:
“Blue Spirits” on the New York USA labels of Blue Note BLP 4196. Get a taste of that Blue Note early pressing magic. No contemporary reissue will EVER sound as good or retain its value like a New York USA Blue Note. ”
Absolutely right (apart from the early pressing magic, but 1967 is close enough)
Given the main selling pitch was Blue Note NY label, sellers were conspicuously silent on the absence of a Plastylite stamp. Only one of the top 10% 25 auctions declared “no ear” in the headline, which didn’t seem to hurt them. No-one says it has the ear, but 24 sellers independently decided silence is golden. You have to think, they know don’t they? Instead, lots of hand-waving about the “original” New York label and Van Gelder stamp, and of course some attributing the recording date “1965” as though it was the year of manufacture.
Interestingly, only two copies of the stereo made it into the top 10% of auction prices: mono remains auction king, though probably stereo accounted for the majority of sales.
Most of these descriptions are truthful within the rules, but not full disclosure. Two declared their copy to be “deep groove” (in 1967?), one in plain sight of a photo that said otherwise. Still, they netted nearly $200 on the strength of that “Wow”!
The cigar however goes to the seller who artfully and technically correctly referenced the cover address in their headline offering: Not the 47 West 63rd St. label address, the 43 West 61st St. cover address, but the thought goes through your mind. It is inconsequential: the same address is on both the Blue Note and the Liberty covers. Why headline it?
Here we must reach the end of the post, with Christmas fast approaching.
Some jazz-related sites run to the discipline of a post a day, like the excellent Marc Myers “JazzWax”. I decided recently that I enjoy digging deeper, where few have burrowed, and posting “quality over quantity”, though you are the best judge of that.
I wish all my readers thank you for staying with me on this jazz-adventure, we have still many discoveries to enjoy in 2018, (never thought I would see that number in print), Thank you for your comments and contributions, which make it worthwhile for me. It remains just to wish you all a “jazzy Christmas”, snapped just the other week, my official LJC Christmas Card:
Merry Christmas, and a jazzy New Year.
POSTSCRIPT (!Because there are always some things you wanted to add after you have posted!)
Freddies’ most valuable record is another Blue Note that never was – 4135 “Here To Stay”, recorded on December 27, 1962 (a Thursday) and not released until 1976, by United Artists (BN-LA 496 H2). Until then it existed only as a test pressing, cut by Plastylite on May 23, 1963 (also a Thursday) :
Seller in the auction knew something I’d not heard before: “ONLY 25 TEST PRESSINGS WERE MADE OF EACH BLUE NOTE TITLE”. Somewhere are possibly others. Now that is worth a WOW!
The test pressing (Sides A and B together) fetched $2,920 in auction, the most ever paid for a Blue Note test pressing. There is a collector-elite who pay $1,000-$3,000 for these rareities . The 1976 reissue was mastered by in-house UA engineers, likewise the 1986 Pathe Marconi, which is a DMM. The test pressing is the only edition of that recording that is mastered by Van Gelder, stamped RVG, and pressed with ear by Plastylite. The test pressing is the only “original” that exists.
Posted on LJC in 2014, The Blue Note That Never Was , Here To Stay was issued in 1986 by Pathe Marconi with its original intended cover. For a DMM, it is nice LP, well worth seeking out.